Why It Works
- The lamb ribs are braised with apricots, onions, cumin, and chile pepper for hours until tender.
- Towards the end of braising, they're roasted uncovered until the fat browns and becomes crispy at the edges.
Whenever I see a frenched rack of lamb, I recall how, under the tutelage of a German-born butcher, I was taught to french lamb using the method he learned as a boy apprentice in Bavaria, during the 1950s. If this sounds like the beginning of a butchering story with a lot of positive emotional valence, about master butcher and beginner, the teacher passing on his hard-earned knowledge to the novice, well, it is not really that kind of story....at all.
Using a length of twine, the thing to do was to shimmy the rope up and down the bone with enough tensile strength to separate the flesh from the bone. In the hands of the old Bavarian, the method produced sticks of clean bone and lollipop-like lamb chops. The scraps, once removed, were tossed into the chop bin for ground meat and sausage. I watched my teacher french a few racks, until I was sure I could do it myself.
But somehow the twine in my hands seemed more drawn to my flesh than the lamb flesh. The twine took hold. It was sinking and digging, not into the fatty lamb ribs, but onto my bony and un-fatty fingers. Numbed as I was by the coldness of the meat, I failed to notice this until it was too late and I'd already frenched into the second segments of my index and middle fingers. Like I said before - it's a butchering story with a twist, when the butcher becomes the butcher-ed (or butcher-ee?)
Even if I hadn't mauled myself, I'd still be miffed. Why do people want their lamb chops to look like lollipops? As far I can see, a rack of lamb, consisting of the loin and part of the ribs, get "frenched" for aesthetic reasons only. The issue here is not whether frenched racks of lamb look pretty. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, though I happen to think that the honeycomb pattern of tripe, the glisten on a very fresh piece of liver, the woodsy patina on a well-aged slab of beef, are much better displays of the beauty of meat.
Beauty aside, I would argue that frenching a rack of lamb is neither an efficient nor a tasty use of your time or your butcher's time. Since we eat pork ribs and beef ribs, why not lamb? Why scrape away that part of the lamb's ribs, called by some the lamb breast, when those fatty, sinewy sections, with a layer of meat that's tender and flavorful, make for such good eating right off the bone?
Of course, lamb ribs are often demonized as too fatty. True, your lamb ribs will most likely come with a cap of fat on one side. To deal with this, towards the end of braising, uncover the pan, and the fat will begin to brown and become a little crispy at the edges. I would never, of course, brazenly advise without any consideration of one's health that one ought to eat all the fat on the ribs, but have a taste of it. The fat on the meat will carry the flavor of the spices you've added, and it will smack of the sweetness of the apricots and onion.
This recipe is so easy that it almost doesn't seem like cooking to me. You slice some onions, get yourself some dried apricots, and nestle the lamb, rubbed with whatever spice mixture you prefer (I like a mixture of chile pepper and cumin), amongst the dried fruit and onions. Set it in a low-temperature oven for a while.
The result after a few hours: an apricot-onion-lamb fat jam that tastes, as you might expect, pretty incredible when slathered onto your fork-tender, juicy lamb ribs. Actually, the apricot onion paste tastes great with anything. When I ran out of ribs, I slathered the paste onto grilled goat cheese sandwiches.
For the Spice Rub:
1 tablespoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground chile pepper, or to taste
For the Lamb Ribs
1 rack lamb ribs
A few tablespoons of oil for sautéing, or some trimmed off pieces of lamb fat
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
2 cups dried apricots
In a small bowl, mix the ingredients for the spice rub. Sprinkle spice rub evenly on both sides of lamb ribs and set aside.
Heat a skillet over medium heat and add oil or lamb fat. Sauté onions until they're softened but not browned, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
To assemble the braise: Cover the bottom of your pan with sautéed onions and apricots. Nestle rack of ribs into onions and apricots. Pour in enough water so that the ribs are 1/3 of the way submerged, about 2 cups. Cover the pan with foil.
In the meantime, preheat oven to 275°F (135°C). Braise ribs in oven until very tender, about 3 hours. Uncover pan and turn heat to 375°F (190°C). Continue braising until the fat on the surface is browned and onions are very brown, about 30 minutes longer. Pour off rendered lamb fat in the pan, setting it aside for another use.
Serve hot or warm. Leftovers may be reheated in a 250°F (120°C) oven until warm, about 30 minutes.
If you do find yourself with a pool of rendered lamb fat in your roasting pan, consider collecting it for future use, in something like light and fluffy biscuits, which I usually make with butter, but which are very good with lamb fat, lard, or tallow.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 35g||45%|
|Saturated Fat 12g||61%|
|Total Carbohydrate 50g||18%|
|Dietary Fiber 6g||22%|
|Total Sugars 39g|
|Vitamin C 6mg||31%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|